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What is CloudFlare Hosting?
CloudFlare is a company that provides the combined services of a Content Delivery Network and a Domain Name Server. These two technologies working in parallel provide increased speed and performance to web sites, as well as protecting them from a number of security risks such as Denial of Service (DOS) attacks
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers that are distributed geographically throughout the internet. Its purpose is to serve static web assets (images, script files, cached pages, and media) with as much speed and availability as possible.
CloudFlare CDN bills itself as the "Next Generation" of Content Delivery, because of its unique set of features.
Speed and Performance
Several factors influence the overall speed and performance of a Content Delivery Network, and CloudFlare has taken steps to optimize each one.
- Server Technology
- CloudFlare's physical server hardware is some of the fastest available. Instead of buying commodity server hardware, they designed their own servers from scratch, selecting each component -- from solid state drives to high-performance chips -- with speed in mind.
- They also built their own web server software, which allows CloudFlare servers to process millions of requests per second.
- Server Location
- CloudFlare's edge servers, the physical machines that actually store content before delivering it to your users, are distributed across the globe, at key locations near major internet hubs.
- Network Routing
- CloudFlare's Anycast technology ensures that requests for content are served from the closest possible server.
- SPDY is an internet transfer protocol that greatly speeds up HTTP. Premium CloudFlare customers have access to SPDY with no additional setup or configuration.
CloudFlare reports that the websites it serves load twice as fast after joining the CloudFlare CDN, and that requests decrease by 65% while bandwidth decreases by 60%, on average.
Content Delivery Networks have been in use for over fifteen years, but only among major websites. One of the reasons they haven't fully caught on among small and medium sized websites is issues surrounding configuration.
CloudFlare has solved that problem through its distributed domain name server technology. Setup requires only a small change in your own DNS, which allows CloudFlare to act as a reverse proxy. This takes less then five minutes. Once done, requests to your website are handled by CloudFlare and their optimized Content Delivery Network.
Customers of CloudFlare can use their Page Rules feature to specify, with amazing granularity, what content is cached, how, and when. This eliminates the inconvenient "frozen cache" problem that sometimes occurs when assets are being modified more rapidly than the cache is updated.
A Content Delivery Network gets web assets to visitors faster. A WCO, or Web Content Optimizer, improves the assets themselves, as well the way they load.
CloudFlare Optimizer improves page speed through a number of automatic adjustments, including:
- Removes whitespace and unneeded characters from HTML, CSS, and JS files. This is done on-the-fly, without caching, so it works with dynamically generated content as well.
- Local storage caching
- Takes advantage of the local storage capabilities of modern browsers and mobile devices.
- Cache header optimization
- Lets browsers know which resources to cache, minimizing overall requests.
- Asynchronous resource loading
- Allows pages to display faster by eliminating the need for the page to wait for slower scripts before rendering HTML.
- Browser optimization
- Adjusts the way content is delivered to specific browsers, to take advantage of the particular strengths and features.
- Aggressive GZIP
- Compresses assets to half their size without losing any data.
CloudFlare provides advanced security against a range of attacks such as SQL-injection and distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks. CloudFlare's system monitors traffic patterns across a large network and is able to identify and learn from each attack attempt, improving security over time for both your website and the entire CloudFlare network.
CloudFlare Security features are quite extensive, but they are also very easy to configure and use, thanks to their dead-simple security options:
- I'm under attack!
- Essentially off
CloudFlare also provides detailed threat reports, telling you who is attacking and how (and how they were stopped).
CloudFlare Analytics works in conjunction with your existing web analytics provider (for example, Google Analytics) to provide detailed information about your traffic in real time. Information available through CloudFlare Analytics includes:
- Traffic breakdown by category
- Search Engines
- Threats and Attacks
- Detailed Threat Monitoring
- Detailed Search Engine Crawler statistics
- GeoIP location
- Outbound Link activity
CloudFlare Account Plans
CloudFlare provides basic access to their Content Delivery Network and Security for free. Premium features are available through their Pro, Business, and Enterprise plans.
This software as as service (SaaS) is not a type of hosting, but it may be used with any hosting provider. Hosts who partner with CloudFlare offer one-click setup through cPanel, Plesk, and other control panels.